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Sorting out the light heavyweight mess

If the UFC weight divisions were children and the organization itself was the parent, 205 would be the favorite child while the other divisions would all be slightly less intelligent and slightly less attractive, therefore slightly less loved by its parent (just like me). At least that’s how it has been historically in the UFC, with big names like Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Vitor Belfort battling it out for supremacy. But make no mistake: while the other weight divisions now have their fair share of superstars, the 205 pound weight class is still very much the marquee division in the UFC and, accordingly, in mixed martial arts.

Lyoto Machida’s recent domination of former champ Rashad Evans puts him firmly atop the light-heavyweight ladder. A win over Shogun Rua at a rumored October event in Los Angeles will further establish Machida as the top dog, and a Shogun victory will put him at the spot many believe he was destined to be all along, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t a wealth of contenders gunning for a future shot at the strap. Let’s take a look at the biggest names in the sport’s marquee division and see where they stand.

Rampage Jackson: Rampage had the option to fight Machida for the belt or to coach TUF10 opposite Rashad Evans and he chose the latter. It’s hard to fault the former champion as a fight with Evans (thanks in large part to the preceeding stint on TUF) will likely earn him a much bigger payday and will also be a fight which Rampage is more likely to win.

There is no doubt that a victory over Evans would catapult Rampage to a title shot in what would have to be considered a superfight, no matter who the champ is. Getting past Evans is no easy task, but it is a test that Rampage would have to be favored to pass. A loss would sidetrack him a bit, but considering his record of 4-1 in his past 5 fights against top 10 opposition, it wouldn’t take much to put Rampage back on track.

Forrest Griffin: Let’s face it: few are giving Griffin a chance against the pound-for-pound king Anderson Silva. Then again, no one gave him a chance against Shogun or Rampage, either. On top of that, Griffin — like Clay Guida — is the type of fighter who rises to the level of competition that he’s facing. A victory over the seemingly unstoppable middleweight champion would firmly establish Griffin as a modern day Randy Couture — the guy that seems to come out victorious when the odds are stacked against him. Not only that, but a win would also guarantee him a title shot at the 205 lb champ. A loss would set him back a bit, but considering the status of Anderson Silva, it would only take about two consecutive victories afterwards to set Griffin up for another championship opportunity.

Considering Machida v. Shogun is likely set for October and Rampage and Evans won’t be meeting until the end of the year, a Griffin title shot would come first, followed by Rampage getting his chance at the belt if he were to win his fight. But can Griffin actually beat the man considered by most to be the best fighter on the planet? I don’t know, but I sure as hell can’t wait to watch him try.

Rashad Evans: Machida was the favorite to beat Rashad in their May scrap, but few expected the first round blowout that took place. Evans will get an opportunity to prove he’s still one of the best on the planet when he fights Rampage at the end of the year. Despite his early showings in the Octagon, Evans has evolved into one of the most explosive athletes in the sport today.

A victory over Rampage would guarantee him another shot at the belt, so long as Griffin loses to Anderson Silva. If Griffin wins, a fight with someone like Rich Franklin would make sense to establish a new top contender. A loss to Rampage — which would be his second in a row — would send Evans tumbling down to the middle of the pack at 205 and would require a healthy string of victories to put him back in contention.

Rich Franklin: While Franklin wasn’t able to finish Wanderlei Silva like some of the Axe Murderer’s other recent opponents have done, he showed that he is still one of the elite fighters in the world today. Dana White has said he wants Franklin to make a run for the belt and few people would argue with that. But before Franklin steps in the cage with some of the bigger names at 205, he’s likely going to have to get past one of the rising contenders in the weight class.

This means a future bout with Luis Cane or the winner of August’s Jardine vs. Silva fight should be in the cards for the former math teacher. A victory would set him up for a title eliminator. I, for one, see Franklin dropping his next bout or the one after and thwarting any title hopes he has. I’ve been wrong before (like that time I thought I pulled out of your mother) but I think I’m on the money this time.